Although invented in 1926 by a truck engineer named Francis Davis, power steering didn't become standard issue on most vehicles until the mid-to-late '60s. These hydraulic innovations did wonders to help drivers turn stubborn steering wheels on heavy vehicles, especially at low speeds. Today's power steering systems work the same way.
HOW DOES POWER STEERING WORK?
Your power steering system, also known as rack and pinion, is a mechanical device that reduces the amount of effort needed to turn the steering wheel. Without these power steering systems, it would take considerable effort and strength to turn a vehicle at low speeds, such as when parking.
Power steering systems are a combination of hydraulic and electric components, which means they need power steering fluid in order to operate correctly.
WHAT DOES POWER STEERING FLUID LOOK LIKE?
Fresh, clean, power steering fluid will look clear with a pink or amber tint. As it works in your vehicle over time, it becomes darker as it gathers dirt and debris. If your power steering fluid looks brown or black, you should have your system flushed and fresh fluid added.
HOW TO TELL IF YOU HAVE A POWER STEERING LEAK
Since power steering systems require less service and checkups than other fluid-filled systems on our vehicles, many of us aren't familiar with what a power steering leak looks, sounds, or feels like. Because a power steering leak can be a significant issue, it's good to know a few symptoms that help you identify problems.
- Power Steering Noises—Your power steering system will make noises when something's not right. A high-pitched squealing when the vehicle is first started usually signals a worn belt. Whining, groaning, or grinding noises when a vehicle is turned at low speeds can indicate low or dirty power steering fluid.
- Steering Feels Off—If you notice stiffness in the steering wheel that starts at low speeds and then fades away, this could indicate an issue with your power steering.
- Visual Signs of a Leak—If you notice a pink- or amber-toned fluid pooled anywhere under your vehicle, this may indicate a leak in your power steering reservoir or in the hoses leading to/from it.
HOW TO FIX A POWER STEERING FLUID LEAK
If you suspect a power steering fluid leak, check your fluid reservoir to ensure there's enough fluid and that it's not dirty or contaminated. If you don't know where your power steering fluid reservoir is, check your vehicle's manual for instructions on how to check power steering fluid.
If the contents of the reservoir are low, add power steering fluid slowly, in small amounts. Overfilling the reservoir can lead to a pressure buildup that will damage the seals of your system, causing further problems.
If you suspect a power steering problem, visit your local AAA car care center for an inspection. AAA's technicians are well-versed in power steering systems for nearly every vehicle make and model.